Michael Albers believes in his work. The president and owner of Bor-It Mfg. has seen new technologies come and go, but through it all, the tools of his trade have remained constant.
“I’ve seen a lot of things over the years that are supposed to replace horizontal earth boring equipment,” says Albers, speaking from his office in Ashland, Ohio. “But there’s always going to be a need or a job where this type of machine will be the only effective means of getting it done.”
It’s not just wishful thinking. Albers has been the owner of Bor-It Mfg. since its founding in 1987, but he’s been involved with the industry in various capacities since 1970, when he was hired by Richmond Mfg. Co. “I worked in many departments,” he explains. “I started off as the company pilot, and I couldn’t stand the thought of just sitting in an airport, waiting for hours on end doing nothing. I eventually learned drafting, which the company taught me. Then I went into service and demonstration, then sales and actually ended up being the sales manager for the company.”
A turning point came in 1987, when Richmond closed his business due to product liability issues. After 17 years with the same company, Albers faced a crossroads. “I was left with a couple of choices,” he says. “I could go back to my previous occupation or continue in what I had been trained in.”
Albers elected to do the latter and in May 1987, Bor-It Mfg. was born. From the beginning, the owner knew what his company’s specialization would be. “I’ve always been focused on horizontal boring machines, and I will continue to do so until I either retire and my children continue on with the business or something else happens,” he says.
That’s not to say that Albers hasn’t given thought about other avenues. “At one time I had looked into directional drilling — that was at an ICUEE show. There were a couple there,” says Albers. “But the next time I went to the show, there were 50 of them. I figured I had enough competition just in this industry, let alone starting something else.”
In the end, sometimes it’s better to focus on your strengths. “I know this industry inside and out,” he explains, “so I’m going to stay with horizontal earth boring equipment.”
Auger Boring Know-How
How well does Albers know his machines? Perhaps better than anyone else. “All of our machine shave been designed by me here in Ohio using the techniques I learned in my previous employment,” says Albers. “I addressed some of the problems they had with their equipment and that’s how our machines came about.”
Bor-It also has an in-house engineer who collaborates with the engineers of each machine’s various components — engines, transmissions, gearboxes, pumps and so on. Such open communication helps Albers design and build machines that will not only meet customer expectations, but also exceed them.
One of the best examples also happens to be one of the first machines that Albers built for a customer. “I built a 36-in. machine, which took me six weeks,” says Albers. “I took the machine out to him and showed him how to run it, and he started doing bores with it.” Albers had originally meant to rent the machine out to the contractor, but when he went back to collect a rental payment, he was in for a pleasant surprise. “He said, ‘I like it, and I’m buying it. Give me a sales price,’” recalls Albers.
Maintaining such a high level of customer satisfaction is tricky, but it’s also essential for the growth and reputation of a business. Perhaps that is why Albers insists that his machines go though such a rigorous testing regimen. “All of our machines are tested here at the factory,” he says. “Every machine that we produce has a 41-point test sheet.”
Both the machine’s builder and that builder’s supervisor look over the product and make sure it is ready for distribution. The company also engages infield testing.
“When we have a new product out, we find a customer that has a need for it. They’ll take it out and test it and see how it works,” says Albers. As a smaller company, Bor-It employees are able to take more time with their machines, which in turn helps the business to maintain a consistent level of quality.
Fortunately, the company’s size has not limited its scope. “We’re certainly not the largest manufacturer in this business, but we do compete in the entire world market,” says Albers. “In fact, a majority of our business is outside the United States.”
In addition to its U.S. customers, Bor-It has sold machines in the Middle East, Europe, Russia, South America, Africa and Canada. The boost in the company’s international sales has been a somewhat recent development. “About two years ago, there didn’t seem to be the volume that we used to have, so we started looking elsewhere and we picked that volume up in the international market,” says Albers.
It appears that no matter where the customer may be, the formula for satisfaction is universal. “To be competitive, you have to provide them with a product that will do the job and will last,” he says. “We try to be competitive financially as much as possible.”
Beyond the Sale
Bor-It’s commitment to its customers goes beyond quality products. The company also considers safety and training so important that it’s part of the purchase. “Our normal customer is a general contractor that has a job that has some bores required on it. We offer initial training with the purchase of the machine, and we continue to advise people on various problems,” says Albers.
And it doesn’t even have to be a call involving Bor-It’s equipment. “Sometimes we even get calls from other manufacturer’s customers, and we give them advice,” he says.
“Safety and training are combined with the utilization of the machine,” Albers continues. “You have to show people how to use the controls and how to operate the equipment, as well as what to watch for. You have to make sure all the people are safe and aware of unseen dangers and make certain that the job proceeds smoothly.”
Albers’ dedication to these issues has manifested itself in a number of ways throughout the years. In addition to the company’s standard practice of placing safety information on machines and in user manuals, the company is also an active contributor to SAE standards, something it has done since the late 1980s.Perhaps most impressive are the training sessions that Albers leads to brief and train new users on his equipment — even if those new users are thousands of miles away.
“The most recent training session was done in several locations in Russia,” says Albers. “I held classes and demonstrations using an interpreter. I’ve done that for various contractors in the United States and elsewhere in the world and also some union shops.
“I don’t travel as much as I used to when I was first involved in the horizontal industry. In my younger days, I’d be gone so much that I would have to read a match cover in the hotel room just to remember where I was,” Albers continues. “When there’s repeat business, they already know how to do it. When we get someone that is new with it, we provide them with as much help as they need.”
Albers’ dedication to his customers is more than just a way to ensure repeat business. It is a fundamental part of his business philosophy. “I’ve always approached business as if I was the end user,” he says. “I’ve always questioned how I would like to be treated, and I listen to what customers have to say. If they give me a suggestion on what to do, I’ll listen to it and take a look at it. If I hear the same suggestion twice, I most definitely implement it, because it came from a couple of different sources.”
Standing the Test of Time
The pairing of exceptional machines with exceptional customer service can help a business outlast others in the industry, but even the most business-savvy manufacturer still must contend with the ultimate competitor — time. Technology advances as the years go by, and the ability to keep up with the changes is a legitimate concern.
“I monitor trade publications and see what some of my competitors are doing. If I see something that looks worthwhile, I’ll take a look and see if I want to implement it,” says Albers. “I also take a look at past experience. Over the past 34 years, I’ve seen a lot of machines that were meant to replace horizontal boring equipment. Some of them are effective; some of them are not. But we’re still around doing dry auger boring, and we’re going to continue to until I go to the grave. I’m pretty sure of that.”
Horizontal earth boring machines have a surprisingly long life; Albers says that he still replaces parts on machines that are more than 30 years old. “We build them extremely strong,” Albers says. “When I first designed a machine, I took defects that I saw out in the field and engineered them out. There’s boring machines out there that are extremely old and still being used day to day. The thing about a boring machine is that if you maintain it and take care of it, I think they will last forever.”
And it’s a good thing that they do, because Albers says that the industry will continue to be feasible for years to come. “Normally these are utilized where there is a roadway and you don’t want to interrupt the traffic flow. We go underneath roadways or developments, or sometimes under buildings or runways,” he says. “There’s always going to be a need or a job or something that this type of machine will be the only effective means of getting it done. I don’t really know when it will end. I don’t think it ever will.”
Katherine Fulton is assistant editor of Trenchless Technology.